James Milner turned the jeers to cheers after his strike sealed a comprehensive victory over West Ham in what could be his final appearance for Aston Villa. The England international appears to be on the verge of signing for Manchester City in a deal, believed to be worth £30m, which could see Stephen Ireland move in the opposite direction. Milner's name was booed when it was read out before the match but his second-half strike brought Villa Park to its feet. It was not a bad way to sign off.
Villa were already well in the ascendancy, courtesy of first-half goals from Stewart Downing and Stiliyan Petrov, as they proved there can be life after Martin O'Neill. Kevin MacDonald was left to take charge after O'Neill walked out as manager earlier in the week but Villa put all that disruption behind them with a commanding performance. Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton ripped the hapless Hammers to shreds, Downing was named Man of the Match and Villa were unfortunate not to have won by double the scoreline.
Albrighton, who made his England under-21 debut in midweek, was given his first Premier League start and he looked right at home while West Ham failed to handle Young's pace and movement. Villa started like a train and barely let up in intensity.
Villa goal seemed inevitable and it duly came after 15 minutes. Robert Green parried Young's fierce cross out to Albrighton, who volleyed the rebound goalwards and forced the West Ham keeper into a diving save. But Green could only push the ball to Downing who scored from the six-yard line.
Milner thought he had won a penalty when he was challenged by West Ham debutant Winston Reid but referee Mike Dean waved play on. Reid was struggling on his Premier League debut and was even penalised for a foul throw. West Ham's defence was all at sea as Downing and Albrighton made the most of the space and time they were being afforded down the flanks.
Albrighton once again got the better of Herita Ilunga before pulling the ball back to Young, who picked out Petrov's driving run into the box, and the Bulgarian headed Villa into a 2-0 lead.
Avram Grant sent on Pablo Barrera and Frederic Piquionne in the second half and West Ham briefly flickered into life but James Tomkins powered a header wide of Brad Friedel's post.
But Villa soon wrapped up the game. Albrighton bustled his way past Tomkins and pulled the ball back for Milner, who lashed a first-time shot past Green. Milner barely celebrated in front of the Holte End but he did acknowledge the standing ovation from the Villa Park crowd after being replaced before the end.